The students: Teams from Seed Change grantee schools hoping to jumpstart farm to school activities in their own communities.
The trainers: Ag-science teachers, University of Kentucky extensions agents, school nutrition staff and high schools students eager to share their passion for connecting kids to local food and farms.
The subject: All things farm to school.
With a packed schedule, these trainees spent the day learning about greenhouse hydroponics, high tunnel production and maintenance of raised bed gardens. They also met with the Food Service Director Judy Ellis, who highlighted the garden program and explained how garden produce is incorporated into school meals. In the afternoon, the trainees talked with University of Kentucky Horticultural experts and Cooperative Extension agents, who have been instrumental in helping Boyle County HS develop their program, choose appropriate equipment, and consider important issues of sustainability.
The training at Boyle County HS is just one component of the National Farm to School Network’s new Seed Change initiative in Kentucky, which aims to rapidly scale up farm to school activities across the state by connecting hundreds of farm to school advocates to share best practices, build community engagement and bring more local food into schools. It is one of several school-based initiatives across the country supported by the Walmart Foundation, which has as focus of improving child nutrition through school meal programs and access to nutrition education.
This peer-learning model is bringing people together – some new to farm to school, some veterans – but all are learning from each other. As Toni Myers, Agricultural Science teacher and FFA advisor explained, “These trainings are a two-way street. In fact, I’ll be changing some of our own practices in the greenhouse and gardens because of ideas shared by the trainees!”
Kara Shelton, a senior at Boyle County HS, is one of Toni’s “Garden Girls,” a group of FFA students that led a tour of the raised bed gardens and greenhouse hydroponic system at the Seed Change training. Not only are these students practicing their public speaking skills, building confidence and strengthening their job skills, but they’re also sharing their passions for working in the school garden and inspiring visiting teachers and school staff.
“Before I worked in the garden, my idea of community service was limited. But now, I see that there are more ways to help in my community than I thought,” said Kara. “Last summer, I had the opportunity to deliver fresh produce we had grown in the school gardens to a weekend backpack program, which helps provide food for young students and families in need. This made working in our gardens a more personal experience for me. Before I was introduced to the families, all I could see when I went to the garden was twelve 8’x4’ raised beds, but now I’m able to connect the gardens to a person, and see the effect it had on other people. Seeing a little girl run up to me and hug my leg and say ‘Thank you so much for all my food!’ definitely added more fuel to my fire. It made me want to see the gardens grow. I wanted to produce as much as I could to feed this little girl and her family.”
The schools that are part of Seed Change are empowering students to be better eaters, to be farmers, teachers, and leaders in their communities. These same students are, in turn, inspiring other schools and communities to build their own farm to school programs.
The training at Boyle County School District was the first of 15 Seed Change trainings that will take place at six demonstration sites across Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Louisiana this fall and early winter. Seed Change grantees will use these trainings to help implement their projects and catalyze school gardens, take farm field trips, host local food tastings, and integrate experiential nutrition and agriculture education into school curriculum.
Seed Change in Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Walmart Foundation, which shares the National Farm to School Network’s commitment to improving child and community healthy through innovative partnerships. Learn more about Seed Change here.